In keeping with his earlier treatment of Article X and Article XVI, Browne holds that Article XVII is neither Calvinist nor Arminian, although, as mentioned previously, he suggests the Article allows for both positions: “It seems worthy of consideration, whether the Article was not designedly drawn up in guarded and general terms, on purpose to comprehend all persons of tolerably sober views.” That the Article enforces neither Calvinism nor Arminianism is evidenced by the fact that, as Browne says, it does not specify the basis of predestination, whether it be God’s good pleasure, per Calvinism, or foreseen faith, per Arminianism: “The Article says nothing concerning the moving cause of predestination; and therefore speaks as much the language of Arminius as of Calvin.” Furthermore, the Article is silent about the notion that, just as God predestines some to life, so does He reprobate others, i.e., predestine them to damnation. As Peter Toon observes, “This negative side to divine election was resisted in the Reformed Catholicism of the Church of England, even though exiles who had been in Switzerland and who returned in the reign of Elizabeth I pressed for double predestination to be included in the Confession of Faith of the reformed Church of England. Likewise, Oliver O’Donovan writes that Article XVII “does not speak of the double decree”:
This silence is emphasized by its peculiar shape. “Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God,” it begins; and we naturally await a balancing sentence, “Foreordination to death … etc. But it never comes. Cranmer will not say that there is such a thing as foreordination to damnation, but only that belief in such does exist and that the devil can make use of it.
Neither does the Article mention effectual calling, i.e., irresistible grace, or particular redemption, i.e., limited atonement. Regarding the former, Browne writes, “The language of Cranmer and Ridley, and of our own Liturgy, Articles and Homilies, is remarkably unlike Calvin’s concerning effectual calling.” As for the latter, Browne notes that “the English Reformers held, and expressed in our formularies, with great clearness and certainty, the universality of redemption through Christ,” citing Article XXXI to this effect: “The offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world.” The question of final perseverance we have already addressed previously.
Rather than imposing the lens of Calvinism or Arminianism onto the Article, Browne maintains that it should be read as teaching ecclesiastical election, which he defines as follows:
As the Jews of old were God’s chosen people, so now is the Christian Church…every baptized member of the Church is one of God’s elect, and…this election is from God’s irrespective and unsearchable decree. Here therefore election is to baptismal privileges, not to final glory; and the elect are identical with the baptized; and the election constitutes the Church.
To contemporary Christians this might seem like an idiosyncratic category of Browne’s own devising. In fact the concept of ecclesiastical election is well established in historical theology, and if it appears to be a strange novelty this is only because it has been neglected in recent years, as many older Anglican authors discuss it in various works.
Without getting into the details of Browne’s presentation of ecclesiastical election, I will add that it is but one way to account for all of the relevant biblical data. Given how contested the topic has been throughout Christian history, what Browne says in light of this fact is forever germane:
Deep learning and fervent piety have characterized many who have widely differed in these points of doctrine. It is well for us, disregarding mere human authority and philosophical discussions, to strive to attain the simple sense of the Scriptures of God. But it is not well, when we have satisfied ourselves, to condemn those who may disagree with us; nor, because we see practical dangers in certain doctrines, to believe that all who embrace those doctrines must of necessity fall into evil, through the dangers which attach to them. Discussions on subjects such as this do not, perhaps, so much need acuteness and subtilty, as humility and charity.
We should also remember that, as Browne points out, Luther in his riper years “speaks of the predestinarian controversies set on foot in his own time, as the work of the devil.” May we therefore heed Browne’s words and approach the topic with a reserve befitting its history of controversy.
- Peter Toon, “Predestination in Anglican & Reformed (Calvinist) Formularies,” The Prayer Book Society: News, 23 April 2007, https://pbs1928.blogspot.com/2007/04/predestination-in-anglican-reformed.html. ↑
- Oliver O’Donovan, On the Thirty-Nine Articles: A Conversation with Tudor Christianity, 2nd ed. (London: SCM Press, 2011), 85. See also Thomas Waite, Sermons, Explanatory and Practical, on the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, 1826), 261‒62; Edward Welchman, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (London: SPCK, 1842), 43; Gilbert Burnet, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles, ed. James R. Page (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1842), 225; George Tomline, Elements of Christian Theology, 14th ed., vol. II (London: T. Cadell, 1843), 261, note a; William Baker, A Plain Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Rivington’s, 1883), 100; John Macbeth, Notes on the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1894), 89; G. F. Maclear and W. W. Williams, An Introduction to the Articles of the Church of England (London: Macmillan and Co., 1895), 221‒22; B. J. Kidd, The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their History and Explanation (London: Rivington’s, 1899), 155; F. E. Middleton, Lambeth and Trent: A Brief Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles (London: Chas. J. Thynne, 1900), 97; and E. Tyrrell Green, The Thirty-Nine Articles and the Age of the Reformation, 2nd ed. (London: Wells, Gardner, Darton & Co., 1912), 115. It is worth noting that, according to T. P. Boultbee, “The greater part of those commonly called Calvinists do not hold the doctrine of reprobation. They usually approach nearer to the doctrine of St. Augustine, and are content to say that God simply leaves the impenitent to the inevitable consequences of their sins—a doctrine known technically as præterition” (Boultbee, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles [London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1871], 146, italics original). See also Middleton, Lambeth and Trent, 96. ↑
- See also Tomline, Elements of Christian Theology, 261‒62. ↑
- See William Beveridge, An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England (London: James Duncan, 1830), 373; Thomas Pigot, The Churchman’s Guide in Perilous Times (London: R. B. Seeley and W. Burnside, 1835), 49‒50; Tomline, Elements of Christian Theology, 261 note a; A. P. Forbes, An Explanation of the Thirty-Nine Articles, 2nd ed. (Oxford and London: James Parker and Co., 1871), 253‒54; Maclear and Williams, Introduction to the Articles, 225‒26; Edgar C. S. Gibson, The Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen and Co., 1898), 485‒86; Kidd, Thirty-Nine Articles, 157‒58; and Middleton, Lambeth and Trent, 97. See also Michael J. Lynch, John Davenant’s Hypothetical Universalism: A Defense of Catholic and Reformed Orthodoxy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021). ↑
- See, e.g., Waite, Sermons, 264; Tomline, Christian Theology, 258‒60, 266‒67; Forbes, Thirty-Nine Articles, 254; Baker, Exposition, 102; Macbeth, Thirty-Nine Articles, 91; Maclear and Williams, Introduction, 218‒21; Gibson, Thirty-Nine Articles, 465‒69; Kidd, Thirty-Nine Articles, 155‒56; and Green, Thirty-Nine Articles, 117. Compare M. F. Sadler, The Second Adam and the New Birth (Monroe, LA: Athanasius Press, 2004). ↑